Sophomore Balances Two Sports at Dartmouth
Sophomore Balances Two Sports At Dartmouth
Dartmouth College sophomore Bo Patterson flips his batting helmet to a teammate after flying out against St. Anselm on Wednesday. The South Carolinian plays center field for the Big Green’s baseball team and receiver for the football program. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth’s Bo Patterson prepares to bat against St. Anselm on Wednesday. The sophomore plays receiver for the Big Green football team and center field for the baseball squad. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — Dartmouth College football coach Buddy Teevens and his baseball counterpart, Bob Whalen, occupy offices about 40 yards apart on the third floor of Floren Varsity House. The men share not only a friendship and a trademark intensity, but also one of their school’s best athletes. It is because of that cooperation that the Big Green landed Bo Patterson in the first place.
“I talked to Harvard, Cornell and Brown about also playing baseball and they said no one does that here,” Patterson recalled after Wednesday’s baseball victory over visiting St. Anselm, his leading-man looks smeared with eye black and his athletic frame draped over a chair in a Floren classroom. “They said they we want you focused on football and strength training year-round.”
Those Ivy League schools’ loss has undoubtably been Dartmouth’s gain. Patterson has taken over for an injured teammate as the baseball center fielder and was a starting football receiver as a freshman before injuries slowed him last fall. In an age of increasing specialization, John Norton Patterson, Jr. won’t take no for an answer when it comes to the games he loves.
“I’m going to play both until someone makes me stop,” said Patterson, who dreams of playing professionally. “Whether I’m 21 or 40.”
“Coaches want to have their hands on guys year-round now, but I think that causes sports not as focused on athleticism, like baseball, to lose players. If you’re blessed with ability, than why not use it all?”
Why not indeed, thought Teevens and Whalen. The football team would gain a recruit who was twice an all-state selection at South Carolina’s highest high school classification and who attracted interest from Atlantic Coast Conference programs. The baseball squad would get a gazelle to patrol its outfield and wouldn’t have to use a valuable admissions slot to do so. Thus started another bit of beneficial sharing between the programs.
Multi-sport athletes were once common on Division I college campuses. Teevens and his younger brother, Shaun, suited up for Dartmouth’s football and hockey teams as the 1970s turned into the 1980s. Not long after, Pete Lavery played those two sports plus baseball, earning recognition in Sports Illustrated for the feat. Even now, several Big Green athletes compete for the ski teams in the winter and the cross country or track squads during the autumn and or spring.
Patterson’s feat grabs more attention, however, not only because he’s practicing and competing roughly seven months per year, but because he’s poised to be a standout in two high-visibility sports.
“It’s a credit to his athleticism and adaptability that he can shift from Division I football to Division I baseball and then back,” Teevens said.
That being said, Patterson has some work to do. He loses ground to other receivers when he misses spring practice and a chance to harden his body when he’s absent from football strength and conditioning drills during the winter. On the flip side, the fact that he misses fall baseball workouts and has agreed to no longer play in a summer league may stunt his needed progression as a hitter.
Patterson often hits ninth for the Big Green, although he’s sixth among team regulars in batting average at .300 and Whalen notes that he’s improving every day.
“He’s very athletic and instinctive in being an outfielder and he certainly has a strong arm,” said the baseball coach. “But hitting is something you have to do all the time and it’s not something you get better at in the weight room. Since he does play less (baseball) than the other guys, his offensive skills have been a little bit more of a work in progress.”
Patterson, 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, led the football team with 301 receiving yards as a freshman, but pulled a hamstring playing baseball last summer and never truly recovered until January. He played in seven games and caught six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns, but Teevens put his foot down on any more baseball outside of the spring season. Whalen said he’s fine with the arrangement.
“I told Bo from the start that if you’re admitted through football, they have to be your first priority,” the coach said. “You don’t get better at baseball when you’re not playing, but I understand the arrangement, and I think it’s fair.”
Whalen and Teevens first shared players during the former coach’s first season at Dartmouth in 1990. That’s when football quarterback and baseball pitcher-first baseman Mark Johnson starred for both squads, then headed off on a baseball career that peaked at the major league level. More recently, the likes of 2004 graduate Ed Lucas and 2008 graduate Jason Blydell have suited up for both programs.
Patterson’s multi-sport journey began when his father, a former Guilford (N.C.) College football player and longtime college and high school coach, began dropping an inflated balloon down to his infant son as he lay in his crib. The baby seemed to enjoy batting it about, so they progressed to a beach ball and the boy was playing baseball by the time he was 5.
John Patterson insists he wasn’t an overbearing parent, just a dedicated one. He and his wife, Tammy, moved to New Hampshire before Bo’s freshman year so they could watch him play in person. John is now the athletic director at Campbell High, a little south of Manchester.
“I didn’t think he would be a great athlete, because I certainly wasn’t,” said the father, who pondered the nickname Bubba, but eventually tagged his son Bo after NFL and Major League Baseball star Bo Jackson. “He wasn’t my retirement plan. I was just playing with a little child and you do what you know, and I’m a coach. He wanted to bounce or catch or throw a ball and he couldn’t get enough of it, even though we never pressured him into sports.”
Bo Patterson says the same thing, although father and son share a laughing memory of the day the 7-year old youngster asked to play football and was turned down by his dad. John Patterson wanted his boy to wait until at least middle school, but when Bo then asked to play soccer, gridiron tryouts got the green light.
“As a football coach in the South, I couldn’t have him playing soccer,” John Patterson said with a chuckle.
The father coached at his alma mater as well, with programs including Winston-Salem (N.C.) State and The Citadel. He recalls driving a minibus full of recruits and their families slowly around the campus of Elon (N.C.) College while bouncing Bo on his knee. The boy grew up around his father’s players, practices and games, but by the time he entered ninth grade, his father had become the head coach at their local high school, James Island in Charleston, S.C., with a substantial challenge ahead.
“It was the worst job among South Carolina’s big high schools,” said John Patterson, noting that James Island’s 1,350-student enrollment was the smallest in its division. “Our kids had never lifted weights, they didn’t know how to win and some of them were thugs. We had to go in and change a whole culture.
“Some dads and their sons build a soap box derby car. Me and Bo built a football team.”
By the third year, James Island had reached the state quarterfinals. As a senior, Bo was one of eight finalists for South Carolina’s Mr. Football award, joining three others who were named All-Americans. Although the Pattersons had hoped he could earn a scholarship to the likes of Duke, Northwestern or Stanford, that dream didn’t pan out.
John said Bo had other shots to play at the Football Championship Subdivision, but the value the family placed on academics pushed his son toward the Ivy League. A strong connection with Dartmouth was made because Bo’s high school position coach, Jon Pry, is the son of former Big Green offensive coordinator Jim Pry.
That Bo was determined to play both football and baseball, however, became a sticking point.
“Some schools gave me a flat-out no,” Bo Patterson said. “But I’ve always played both, and going to college didn’t seem like a good enough reason to stop.”
Teevens showed interest and Patterson arrived for an official visit in Hanover shortly after being told a two-sport career wasn’t possible at Brown. Whalen, however, was willing to make it work.
“Bo wanted two (coaches) who wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to hear now and then pressure him to quit later, which happens everywhere,” Whalen said. “I’ve always sought to have a kid or two in our program who played two sports, especially football. It takes tremendous discipline to play that sport and there’s a physicality to it that baseball doesn’t have. Having some kids with that kind of toughness rubs off on other guys.”
Patterson refuses to pick either baseball or football as his favorite, but acknowledges some obvious differences.
“You rely a little more on your teammates in football and you feel more a part of something bigger than yourself,” said the history major. “But baseball is such a mental sport and can be so frustrating, a lot like golf. It can get in your head, whereas in football, the challenge is more the physical toll. Your body is worn down all the time and there’s a lot of pressure to perform in one, 3-hour window each week.”
Asked the most difficult part of his sporting two-step, Patterson doesn’t hesitate in his response.
“Not being seen as a top tier leader on either team,” he said, a touch of sadness in his voice. “I’ll never be voted a captain and that’s really hard for me, because I’ve always been a leader. It’s hard, but I’ve found you don’t need a title to get people to respect you and follow you.”
Sounds like a sentiment worth sharing.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.